Your client’s family could be a wrecking ball swinging towards their retirement chances.

Family issues were the largest obstacles to retirement success discussed in “How Clients Can Prevent Failure In Retirement,” a panel discussion last week at Financial Advisor’s 9th Annual Inside Retirement conference in Las Vegas.

Because problems involving divorce and adult children pose such a risk to retirement, advisors need to think holistically beyond financial issues, said Lorraine Ell, CEO of Better Money Decisions and Better Insurance Decisions.

“In general, we have to be more like coaches and guides,” said Ell. “We need to have responsibility for helping our clients make decisions around money.”


One of the biggest problems Ell has encountered in retirement planning is the divorce of couples near or in their retired years.

So-called “grey divorce” is a rising trend among older couples, said Greg Sullivan, principal & CEO of Sullivan, Bruyette Speros & Blayney, for two reasons. One is that there is a greater sense of financial security among couples and people of all genders. The other is that social media is allowing older Americans to meet and fall in love more easily.

“We’re seeing more collaborative divorce, but it can lead to a worsening of outcomes for both parties,” said Sullivan. “When you separate the wealth you’ve accumulated as a couple, when you divide it in half, are you still going to be OK? The answer is usually no, you’re going to have much less—but you’re also going to be happier, so it’s still a good win.”

Sullivan suggests setting a meeting with both spouses, if possible, to establish transparency and discuss the financial processes involved in divorce. Afterwards, separate advisors should be assigned to each spouse.

Michael Zmistowski, principal of Financial Planning Advisors, uses a licensed divorce mediator in his office.

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